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Obama Defends Immigration Plan

President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting on immigration with journalist Jose Diaz-Balart at Florida International University in Miami, Feb. 25, 2015.

President Barack Obama raised the political pressure on the opposition over immigration Wednesday, telling members of Miami's Latino community that Republicans were to blame for stalling the reform.

"For the next set of presidential candidates," he told a town hall meeting hosted by the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo, "when they start asking for votes, the first question should be, 'Are you really going to deport 11 million people? If not, what's your plan?' "

Obama defended his plan to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants and said he disagreed with a federal judge in Texas who blocked his order from taking effect. The president said it could take months for an appeals court to overturn that ruling.

He said he remained confident that he was within his legal rights to protect such a broad group of undocumented immigrants, and he urged those who would qualify for the program to continue preparing their applications.

"Until we pass a law through Congress, the executive actions we've taken are not going to be permanent; they are temporary," he said.

He said he would veto attempts by the GOP leadership to halt his executive orders through a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which will run out of money Friday if no deal is struck.

"The pressure has to continue to stay on Congress. The pressure has to continue to stay on the Republican Party that is currently blocking the passage of comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

Obama rejected accusations that he failed to act on immigration reform early in his administration while Democrats controlled Congress. He became a little piqued when a member of the public accused Democrats and Republicans of playing "political pingpong" with immigration.

"That's just not true. … Democrats have consistently stood on the side of comprehensive immigration reform," the president said.

The president suggested Americans, particularly young people, who fail to vote have to shoulder some of the blame for the lack of progress on immigration. He pointed out that two-thirds of eligible voters stayed home in the last election, while in some war-torn countries voter turnout can be as high as 60 or 70 percent. "So, my question, not just to the immigrant community, but the country as a whole, is, 'Why are you staying at home? Why are you not participating?' "

But he predicted that the immigration issue eventually would be solved, "because at some point there is going to be a President Rodriguez or Chin," Obama said to applause.